OHSAA Looks to Move State Track and Field, Wrestling Back to One Site

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Coronavirus restrictions kept high school state championships in wrestling and track and field from being held at one site this past school year as each event was hosted at three separate high schools.

Other high school sports associations around the country concurred as their state meets were separated as well.

Ohio High School Athletic Association executive commissioner Doug Ute is looking to rejoin Divisions I through III in each sport back together. Prior to the 2021 season and before the COVID-19 cancellation of both tournaments in 2020, the state wrestling meet was held at the Jerome Schottenstein Center and Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium for track and field – both on The Ohio State University campus.

The Schottenstein Center seats more than 19,000 fans, while Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium can accommodate 10,000.

“We have all intentions of making that happen, and so we are in negotiations and communications talks so to speak with the venue to make that happen,” Ute says. “Hopefully that will be finalized here in the near future. 

Right now, we are in communication with Ohio State on those two venues.”

On the morning of Aug. 9, the OHSAA and Ohio State agreed on a two-year extension to keep state wrestling at the Schottenstein Center. No decision has been made on track and field’s state venue.

Wrestling’s state tournaments in mid-March were held at Hillard Darby High School (Division I), Marengo Highland (Division II) and Marion Harding (Division III). Both Marengo and Marion are about 40 to 50 miles north of Columbus. Track and field in early June were held at Hillard Darby (Division I), Pickerington North (Division II) and Westernville North (Division III) – all Columbus suburbs.

According to an OHSAA financial report from 2017, wrestling and track and field were the fifth (wrestling) and sixth (track and field) best revenue generators for the state association among all sports. Wrestling accounted for 6.6% revenue, but had 7.8% expenditure (fourth most). Track and field hauled in 5.5% revenue, while costing 7.9% (fifth most).

According to the OHSAA Director of Communications Tim Stried, the state organization has a ticket revenue sharing agreement with the Schottenstein Center instead of a flat rate rental cost. The OSU gets a certain percentage of the ticket sales revenue.

Ute was happy athletes around the state could compete this past season, even if it was at separate sites.

“It was really neat, just sitting and watching our kids compete in front of large crowds, which is something they didn’t get a chance to do for a year to a year and a half or so,” he says.

Hadi A. Hadi, Liberty High School wrestling coach, says he’s been to the state wrestling tournament almost every year since 1990. One year was when his mother passed away, while the other was last season.

Even if he had wrestlers competing or not during those seasons, the beauty of the tournament is you viewed all three divisions at one time, he says.

Coaches around the state also use the state as common ground each year, watching the greats of the sport inducted into the state wrestling hall of fame or seeing famed high school wrestlers from across the state compete.

“There’s a certain aura that you get at the state wrestling tournament with all divisions,” Hadi says. “When it’s split up and you’re in a high school, it feels like you’re at another wrestling tournament.

“I think most of the coaches want to see it come back.”

Austintown Fitch boys track and field coach Seth Steiner says this past season was like a “culture shock.” His athletes competed at Hillard Darby. 

He was used to seeing other schools from the Mahoning Valley from different divisions compete and support them as well. 

“You’re so used to walking into Jesse Owens, and obviously it’s such a unique and beautiful place,” Steiner says. “It’s perfect for track and field.”

McDonald boys track and field coach Lou Domitrovich, whose team was the Division III state runner-up, said the initial glimpse of state did not have a “wow factor” as some of the facility was not up-to state-level competition. 

“When kids get off a bus, especially for any type of state tournament, you want them to be able to say, ‘Wow, I made it,’” he says. “It was a high school. It showed.

“When we were in Dayton in the late 1990s and early 2000s at Welcome Stadium, a public stadium for schools, that had more of a wow factor than we experienced this year.”

However, both Domitrovich and Steiner commend both of the high schools for hosting state tournaments without ever doing it before, adding it couldn’t be easy for them. Each site was more than accommodating, making their athletes and coaches feel welcome.

Steiner says local meets throughout this area and northeast Ohio did an unbelievably good job of keeping meets as normal as possible, navigating through the COVID-19 restrictions. The end of the season didn’t seem like a pinnacle as in past years.

“It didn’t live up to the hype,” Steiner says.

Even if the state tournaments do not return to Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium and the Schottenstein Center, Ute says the OHSAA will pursue other options.

“We wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t pursue every venue that we can and put our kids in the best venue that we can afford and make possible at that time,” he says.

For now, the talks for the state tournament sites returning to Ohio State’s campus resume.

“We’re trying to work out details and got them down to small details,” he says. “I hope to get them completed in the very near future.”

Pictured: The state track and field meet was last held at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium on The Ohio State University campus in early June of 2019. The 2020 season was canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions, but the 2021 state meets in Divisions I through III were held at three separate high schools around the Columbus area. 

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